I like to think of Petit Takett as two things; a place to share my love of cooking, and a family album. The name Petit Takett comes from my grandmotherʼs restaurant in Tunisia. After the Second World War, the English soldiers in Tunisia would offer my uncle Roland, then just a young boy, chocolates, saying to him, “take it, take it.” “Take it,” in their French Tunisian dialect, became “takett.” Takett became my uncleʼs nickname and eventually the name of my grandmotherʼs restaurant. She passed her love of cooking on to her son, Sylvain, my father. He in turn passed that love on to me. Petit Takett is my way of honoring both my familyʼs heritage and their crazy love for food.
Takett’s circa 1950
I was barely seventeen and living in Israel with my aunt, Hana, when my mother died. Three years later my father passed away, I was twenty years old and my sister, Remy, was only eighteen. We grew up on the Westside of Los Angeles in a comfortable home that we were forced to sell. Unable to cope with yet another terrible loss, my sister and I shoved as many of our familyʼs belongings as we could into a storage facility where they sat for nearly ten years. As we got older and more settled in our adult lives, we decided to sell off the majority of what remained. What we kept were the things most precious to us; their love letters, family photographs, and an old wooden box of handwritten recipe cards that belonged to my father. Within these items I found my parentʼs spirit. The years of entertaining, cooking, and living were right there, and I was inspired to create Petit Takett partly as a way of ensuring my parentʼs legacy.
My father was a fantastic cook and an even better host. He was fluent in English, French, Hebrew, and Arabic despite having a very limited education. The box of recipe cards he kept tells his story. They are written phonetically in each of the four languages he spoke and a single recipe might contain a bit of each one. There are no measurements, just notes along the lines of, “put the potato in the pot”. Needless to say, they can be difficult to cook from, but I feel like Iʼm having a dialogue with my father every time I try to work one out.
My mother, Marsha, had the grace and charm of a princess. She was tall, beautiful, passionate, and extremely intelligent. She was a tireless advocate for health care reform in the United States and a public health plan she helped start operates to this day in downtown Los Angeles. She had an easy way of making everyone feel warm and welcome inside our home. This was especially true on Jewish holidays and Shabbat. On those nights, the house was alive, smelling of exotic foods, sounding of exotic music, and inevitably the evening would end with dancing or a performance by the children.
Iʼm sure I have tendency, like anyone whoʼs lost their parents, to romanticize the memories I have of our family. But I never got to experience life with them as an adult and itʼs something I canʼt help but wonder about. I know my sister does, too. Weʼre fortunate to have a huge extended family, since my father was one of twelve, and our aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews are spread all over Israel, France and the United States. My motherʼs sister is very much a part of our day to day lives and her home is where we now celebrate the Jewish holidays.
Petit Takett is not just my way of sharing my familyʼs traditions and history. Itʼs a journal of how cooking and food can both carry on those traditions and be reinvented throughout your day to day life. If you love to cook, or even just love to eat, I hope youʼll find something to inspire you to mix it up in the kitchen and on the table. Bon appétit!